Hundreds More Firefighters Deployed to Battle Deadly Northern California Wildfires; Death Toll Rises to At Least 15

Pam Wright
Published: October 10, 2017

Hundreds of firefighters joined the battle Tuesday against more than a dozen wildfires that have killed at least 15 people and scorched upwards of 156 square miles in California's wine country. 

Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the governor's Office of Emergency Services, said firefighters from throughout the state would join the fight Tuesday, along with fire crews from the U.S. Forest Service in Nevada, the Associated Press reports.

Thousands of buildings have been destroyed and an estimated 25,000+ people were evacuated from the fires that are still burning out of control. California's fire chief says at least 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed by the fires that threaten thousands more homes in northern California, according to the AP.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office confirmed nine fire-related deaths Tuesday. More than 150 other people may be missing, the sheriff's department posted on Facebook Tuesday, although the office noted that they are "confident that many of these people will be found safe and reunited with loved ones."

There is a widespread loss of cell service and other communications in the county the AP reports, so it's possible that many of the "missing" people are simply cut off from communications. 

(MORE: Northern California Wineries Burned, Others Under Siege by Fast-Moving Wildfires)

While in California for a fundraising event for Republican congressional candidates on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence promised federal assistance to California.

“I can assure you, as I did the governor, the federal government stands ready to provide any and all assistance to the state of California as your courageous firefighters and first responders confront this widening challenge,” Pence said.

The dire situation prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency Monday in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties.

The Signorello Estate winery burns in the Napa wine region in California on October 9, 2017, as multiple wind-driven fires continue to whip through the region.
(Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)
At least three deaths and several injuries were reported in Mendocino County, Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman said during a Tuesday press conference. 

"We have two confirmed deaths," Allman said. "I think its fair to say we have a third confirmed death.  Two bodies have been removed, the third body our detective unit is in the process of working with CalFire to remove that body. There are unknowns out there because people have not checked in with their relatives."

In Yuba County, a woman died while trying to flee the flames in her vehicle, the county's coroner confirmed Tuesday to KCRA.  

Meanwhile, two deaths were reported in Napa County Monday, according to CAL FIRE.  

Charles Rippey, 100, and his 98-year-old wife, Sara Rippey, died inside their home, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said Tuesday. According to the couple's granddaughter, Ruby Gibney, the couple had recently celebrated 75 years of marriage.

In Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, thousands were forced to flee in the early morning hours Monday. Senior living facilities and hospitals, including 200 people from a Kaiser Permanente Hospital on Bicentennial Drive and Sutter Hospital, were evacuated, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.

"Imagine a wind-whipped fire burning at explosive rates," California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Director Ken Pimlott told AP. "This is 50 miles per hour. Literally, it's burning into the city of Santa Rosa ... burning box stores."

The fire-ravaged Signorello Estate winery is seen Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Napa, Calif. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California sending residents on a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
He added that this is traditionally the worst time of the year for fires in California. 

Marian Williams, a resident of the small Sonoma County town of Kenwood, described the blaze to AP as "an inferno like you've never seen before." 

"Trees were on fire like torches," she said. 

The Tubb fire, which ignited around 10 p.m. Sunday, exploded from 200 acres to more than 68 square miles by noon Monday.

The newspaper notes that entire blocks in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa were leveled by the so-called Tubbs fire, and the city’s new fire station, Fire State 5, was destroyed. The fire also burned Santa Rosa’s historic round barn, the city's K-mart, the Santa Rosa Hilton Sonoma Hotel and destroyed homes at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park.

"There was no wind, then there would be a rush of wind and it would stop," resident Ken Moholt-Siebert told the Los Angeles Times. "Then there would be another gust from a different direction. The flames wrapped around us. I was just being pelted with all this smoke and embers. It was just really fast."

“It’s real bad,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Tuberville told the newspaper. “This is an example of nature in control, and we are doing what we can, but we’re not being that effective at stopping the fire.

The Napa Valley wildfires spread quickly thanks to strong north to northeast winds on the backside of what was Winter Storm Aiden, bringing snow to the Rockies, senior meteorologist Jon Erdman said, noting that at both the Napa County Airport and in Santa Rosa, 20 to 30 mph winds were common, with slightly higher gusts early Monday morning.

"Surface dewpoints, a measure of moisture in the air, were in the mid-upper teens, lower than values in Las Vegas or Phoenix," Erdman added. 

This is a developing story, please check back for the latest information.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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